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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label meme. Show all posts
Showing posts with label meme. Show all posts

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Atheists Dragging God Down to Our Level

The Christian God is a God who expects worship. I don't think that point is controversial. However, many atheists have offered this fact as some kind of flaw or as an example of a contradiction within the Christian view of God. They see God as some kind of egomaniac since he demands his creation worship him.

One good example is this quote from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry supposedly gave Paramount a script for a Star Trek treatment whereby he sought to tease out the fallibility of the traditional concept of God:
One of the Vulcans on board, in a very logical way, says, 'If this is your God, he's not very impressive. He's got so many psychological problems; he's so insecure. He demands worship every seven days. He goes out and creates faulty humans and then blames them for his own mistakes. He's a pretty poor excuse for a supreme being.1
I've sourced this story back to a 1994 book by Edward Gross, but I cannot find a hard copy to confirm the quote. Still, regardless of whether an actual script was offered, the quote has since turned into a meme promoted by atheists online as one way to show how the biblical God doesn't make sense. But does it show a God who demands worship is insecure? If so, he is hardly worthy to be worshipped as God.

Is God Insecure in Asking for Worship?

I think the objection says a lot more about the objector than it does about God. Firstly, the meme ignores the fact that God is not on the same level as man. Certainly one man demanding worship from another would demonstrate a psychological imbalance, but that's because we recognize the equality of human beings. We also recognize that all human beings are flawed. It is the fact that that other person is not God as to why we their demand for worship as wrong.

On the other hand, God holds certain unique attributes that make it sensible for humans to worship him. One of these is the fact that God is the very essence of goodness. We certainly see the value in acknowledging the good in people. That's why we name streets and celebrate a holiday in Martin Luther King's honor. We don't worship King, but parents will tell their children that it's important to uphold applaud the good that people do. The concept of good should be held in the highest regard. Thus if God is the locus of the good, then he is rightfully exalted for his nature.

Secondly as creator and provider, God should be worshipped. We see this in a smaller way within human relationships, too. Children should honor and respect their loving parents. This is appropriate and children who are defiant of parents who only have their best interests at heart are considered spoiled.

While each of us is indebted to our parents, our indebtedness to God as our creator is of a greater kind. As the author of all life, it was God who not only gave us life, but shaped us into the very individuals we are. He didn't simply stop there, either. He sustains us, blessing us with the ability to breathe moment by moment, gives us the very food we eat, and a rational mind to know Him.

The atheist who claims God is being egomaniacal or insecure by demanding worship has a woefully underdeveloped view of God. God is not simply a bigger, more powerful human. God is different in kind from us, not simply different in degree. Given that even within our own humanity, we see it as logical and right to honor someone for upholding the good and appropriate to give deference to parents and those in authority, then is certainly would be logical to worship a being from whom all goodness derives and by whom we owe every aspect of our existence. If a parent demands such respect from a child (and not demanding such is actually detrimental to the child by spoiling her), then I cannot see the supposed logic of the Vulcan's statement. In fact, it strikes me as illogical to treat a being like God as just another human creature. It's simply one more attempt to drag God down to the atheist's level.


1. Gross, Edward, and Mark A. Altman. Great Birds of the Galaxy: Gene Roddenberry & the Creators of Trek. London: Boxtree, 1994. Print. 27.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Jesus Ate with Criminals; Why Wouldn't He Bake a Cake for a Gay Person?

The radical shift in society's understanding of homosexual unions has caused a sort of whiplash in our culture. Homosexual activists see any resistance to their agenda as bigotry, yet Christians are caught between the teaching of scripture on homosexual activities and the command of Jesus to love one's enemies. Further, Jesus seemed to embrace people who were marginalized by the religious conservatives of his day. What's a Christian to do?

This tension has played out fairly visibly in the news and in the courts with Christians such as florist Barronelle Stutzman who refused to provide flowers for her longtime customer Rob Ingersoll because those arrangements were intended to celebrate Ingersoll's union with another man or photographer Elane Huguenin, who was told by the New Mexico Supreme Court her free speech rights were secondary to the state's non-discrimination laws when she turned down photographing a lesbian couple's ceremony. Aaron and Melissa Klein's story is perhaps more notable. The Kleins were ordered to pay a $135,000 fine for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a homosexual couple.

Was Jesus an Enabler?

The legal bludgeoning of Christians who as a matter of conscience wish to not celebrate a ceremony that stands in direct opposition to their beliefs is alarming. It has sparked several states to try and balance the anti-discrimination laws which most believe are good things with accommodations for matters of conscience where one may disagree with the message one is being forced to send.

Even here, such moves have prompted a considerable backlash, even among Christians. I recently saw a tweet that tried to argue in just that way. Showing a picture of Florida Governor Rick Scott signing a law protecting pastors, she tweeted: "Jesus ate dinner with criminals and prostitutes and you're telling me you can't bake a cake for a gay person?"

Drury is alluding to the times in the Gospels where Jesus asks to dine with people like Zaccheus (Luke 19:18) and Levi, tax collectors who had a habit of overcharging the citizenry so they could pocket the excess. Mark tells the story: "When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?' And hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners'" (Mark 2:16-17, ESV).

I think Drury is simply wrong in trying to claim this incident is a parallel. Certainly, Jesus reached out to those with whom he disagreed and he even ate with them, which would be considered an act of friendship in that culture. However, Jesus very clearly stated why he did these things. He came to call sinners to repentance. In other words, Jesus was trying to get them to change their ways.

Now, imagine a different scenario. After dinner, instead of Zaccheus telling Jesus "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much" he asks, "Jesus, since you are a carpenter by trade, I wish to hire you to build me a tax collection booth so I can continue with my chosen lifestyle. Since your services are available for public consumption, I think you should make my job collecting money from the people easier, even if you disagree with what I'm doing." That's the equivalent scenario. Does anyone believe that Jesus would acquiesce to such a demand?

Forcing one to violate conviction means forcing group-think

In the florist case above, Stutzman never refused to sell to Ingersoll because he was homosexual. He was a regular customer. Instead, she refused to draw upon her artistic talent to celebrate an event she considered to violate here convictions. To participate in a celebration is tantamount to endorsing it. The Kleins were in a similar situation. Huguenin's work included crafting a book that would evoke feelings of warmth and celebration as part of her services. It was a story that she simply didn't believe and therefore wished to refuse.

Beliefs and convictions are important. They matter as they shape who we are. If any of these folks were operating a grocery store and those couples came in to buy film or cake mix or even pre-cut flowers from the store's cart I would say they were wrong in their refusal. But that isn't the situation here. In each of these cases, the business provider would have to participate in some meaningful way in the celebration of the event. It's asking someone to participate in what they think is wrong that is the true violation here. To force someone to violate their convictions is to impose a form of group-think upon those with whom one disagrees. That isn't only wrong, but dangerous for society.

Jesus did eat with sinners, but he never made it easier for them to continue in their sins. He may have healed the woman caught in adultery, but he also commanded her to go and sin no more.

Image courtesy Stephanie Astono Salim (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, January 21, 2016

350 Year Old Frenchman Talks About Facebook

I love history. I love to look at ancient edifices or read about past civilizations and try to really get into the minds of those who have come before us. It can seem we're so very different from the Romans or Greeks or Egyptians. We're so much smarter today, after all look at how much our advancements have given us! Such a view is really superficial. Those people were people and their motivations were by and large the same ones we have today. Certainly, they are packaged differently, but it's striking just how much humanity doesn't change from age to age.

Take the issue of self-perception. All people are worried how others perceive them and a significant number elevate the perceptions of others over everything else. Perhaps it was whispers between friends in ages past; today, it's counting comments on Facebook. The drive is the same, though. We want people to think more of us.

As a case in point, look at the writings of Blaise Pascal. His Pensées, or Reflections, was written over 350 year ago, before his death in 1662. Yet, one line neatly sums up the very modern drive of young people fishing for Instagram likes or YouTube fame. He writes, "We are so presumptuous that we would like to be known throughout the world, even by people who shall come when we are no more. And we are so vain that the esteem of five or six people close to us pleases and satisfies us." (#152)1

Pascal even expanded on this to say how much the views of others matter more to us than our own reality. Tell me if these sounds like how so many treat their social media posts today:
We are not satisfied with the life we have in ourselves and in our own being; we want to live an imaginary life in the mind of others, and for this purpose we endeavor to make an impression. We labor constantly to embellish and preserve this imaginary being, and neglect the real one. And if we are calm, or generous, or faithful, we are eager to make it known, so as to attach these virtues to our other being. (#653)
Of course, cultivating the imaginary being online means being something other than honest; making the division more pronounced:
We would rather separate them from ourselves to unite them to the other. We would willingly be cowards to acquire the reputation for being brave. This is a great sign of our own being's nothingness, of not being satisfied with the one without the other, and of renouncing the one for the other! For whoever would not die to save his honor would be infamous. (#653)2
That sounds pretty modern, doesn't it?

We Still Abdicate Our Need for Right-Thinking

Pascal was very aware of the human condition. He knew that while people worried about how other perceives them, such worries are vanity. They don't mean a lot. More important is for one to think well. A strong thinker will examine him or herself as well as the ideas with which he comes in contact:
Man is obviously made to think. It is his whole dignity and his whole merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now, the order of thought is to begin with self, and with its Author and its end.

Now, of what does the world think? Never of this, but of dancing, playing the lute, singing, making verses, running at the ring, etc., fighting, making oneself king, without thinking what it is to be a king and what to be a man. (#513)3

… Just as we corrupt our minds, we corrupt our feelings also.

…Our minds and feelings are improved by conversation; our minds and feelings are corrupted by conversation. Thus good or bad society improves or corrupts them. It is, then, all-important to know how to choose in order to improve and not to corrupt them. But we cannot make this choice if we have not already improved and not corrupted them. Thus a circle is formed, and they are fortunate who escape it. (#659)4
I use social media a lot and I think its great in its place. However, I also try to set aside a certain amount of time every day to be off social media and read or engage others with ideas that will stimulate me to think better. I want to grow better personally, and I'm really not that interested in posting how well I'm doing so others may see. That doesn't mean there's no place for social media. If you're using GoodReads or something similar to spur conversation with others or hold one another accountable for your book reading, that's a great thing. But I hope you would be encouraged to be a little bit intentional in mental self-improvement, as intentional as you may be in the pictures and posts you share.

Proper thinking starts not with how others think of you but an honest self-examination. If you can identify your own biases and predispositions you are in much better shape to understand others' points of view. You can see things like sources are not necessarily less credible simply because they lived centuries or even a couple of millennia before us. You will be more open to an honest exchange of ideas. You won't be as susceptible to being led by feelings that can be manipulated and false.


1. Pascal, Blaise, and Roger Ariew. Pensées. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 2005. Print.
2. Pascal, 2005. 199.
3. Pascal, 2005. 162.
4. Pascal, 2005. 200.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

'Secular' Nations are Coasting Off Christian Fuel

"No one need fear that the Titanic will go down. Even though all her former compartments and bulkheads were stove in by the iceberg, she would still float indefinitely. She might go down a little at the bow, but she would float. I am free to say that no matter how bad the collision with an iceberg, the Titanic would float. She is an unsinkable ship." 1

Those words were offered by P.A.S. Franklin, Vice President of the International Mercantile Marine on the morning of April 15, after reports started coming in that the R.M.S. Titanic stuck an iceberg and was in need of rescue. Franklin assured the public that would be rescued. Of course, his assumption was completely wrong, as was the Titanic's captain who proceeded at full speed even though the Titanic had received six separate warnings of heavy ice before she was struck. Captain Smith, a seasoned leader, knew of the ice in the water before he left port.2 Both men were assuming future success on their past history. Smith even previously said that modern shipbuilding had "gone beyond" any condition causing a ship to sink. 3

Christianity is What Shaped These Societies

I offer the example of the Titanic not to berate the assumptions of the men above, but that they should serve as a caution. Today, we recognize such statements as hubris, perhaps even ridiculous but hindsight is easy. When I read things like Phil Zuckerman's claim that secular societies fare better than religious ones, I have to shake my head. Zuckerman offers several statistics, both on a state level within the U.S. and on a global scale comparing 'secular' nations to those whose citizens are religiously engaged and concludes that on many different benchmarks, such as economic indicators and reported levels of happiness, the secular nations are better. Scandinavian countries are held high in Zuckerman's writings as prime examples of secular nations. While that may be a debatable point, I will grant that for all practical purposes, the Scandinavian nations have a dominant secular population.

I've already discussed the first problem with the claim: what counts as 'better?' Today, I want to take on the heart of the matter, though. These secular nations (and the less religious states Zuckerman offers) are as successful as they are not because they've turned secular, but because of the centuries of Christian history and values that have shaped them into what they are today. It is the Christian tradition that has made the Scandinavian countries value all people as equals. Before Christianity, the Viking culture saw pillaging monasteries of far off countries acceptable and slavery was part of the business. It took some 150-250 years for the Scandinavian nations to convert to Christianity, and during that time the culture gradually changed to adopt Christian principles.4

Jumping to Conclusions

The length of time it takes to change a culture fits appropriately with sociologist Robert Woodberry's findings on how Christian missionaries positively affected third world nations. What makes his study so significant is that Woodberry has researched his claim so carefully no critic can find a hole in it. You can read more here, but as Christianity Today summarized:
Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.

In short: Want a blossoming democracy today? The solution is simple—if you have a time machine: Send a 19th-century missionary.5
Zuckerman has offered his criteria for "better" by using measures like a nation's democracy, the equality of women, or its level of literacy. But these are results of the Christian worldview. So are education, the value for children and orphans, and the idea that all men are created equal. The secular nations that Zuckerman highlights have had a long history of Christianity as their primary societal driver. There simply has not been enough time for secular values that Christians warn of to do the damage they can ultimately inflict.

Once the Titanic struck the iceberg, it didn't sink right away. It took over two hours before she went down and in the immediate minutes after the hit, I would imagine certain crew would still have voiced the same hope as P.A.S. Franklin. Their assumptions were equally wrong. I've shown how the so-call model secular nations have devalued life already. The question for us today is where will this new secularism take us when enough time has passed for the culture to be drowning in it?


1. "She Cannot Sink, Says Official of White Star Line" The Evening World (New York, NY) 15 Apr. 1912, Final ed.: 1. Print. PDF version available at
2. Elverhøi, Peter. "There's a lot of ice out there, old boy." Acquitting the Iceberg. Encyclopedia Titanica, 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 04 Nov. 2015.
3. Butler, Daniel Allen. Unsinkable: The Full Story of the RMS Titanic. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 1998. Print. 48.
4. Stone, Ryan. "The Long Goodbye to Scandinavian Paganism and the Christianization of Three Realms." Ancient Origins. Ancient Origins, 16 Oct. 2014. Web. 04 Nov. 2015.
5. Dilley, Andrea Palpant. "The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries." Christianity Today. 1/8/2014.  Accessed 6/9/2014.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Must Science Assume Atheism?

I recently listened to an interesting conversation between Alister McGrath and Jim Al-Kalili on the Unbelievable! podcast. Both guests have an extensive science background and had a very thought-provoking exchange. While McGrath is a Christian apologist Al-Kalili is a theoretical physicist, radio host, and president of the British Humanist Association.

One key point that McGrath mentioned on the program is the assumptions people take from the scientific enterprise. For example, I've spoken with many atheists who say in order to "do good science" one must assume atheism. They then conclude that science is itself an atheistic enterprise and they believe science and faith are then set against one another. But this is actually sloppy thinking, as McGrath pointed out, and it misses a key distinction.

Methodology versus Ontology

McGrath makes the point that science does adopt a certain methodology in its discipline, what is known as methodological naturalism. In other words, science approaches its exploration of the world as if the answers can all be found by uncovering various natural laws and functions. Scientists take this approach because it forces them to dig deeper; asking the "why does this thing function in this way" helps us investigate the natural world more completely.

However methodological naturalism is just that: a methodology. It's an assumption the scientist makes as he approaches his work.  This assumption, just like any other, has limitations and cannot inform us of other questions which may be equally relevant.  As an illustration, think of a forensic scientist. A forensic pathologist can study a body and determine the cause of death. Perhaps the victim's heart gave out under extreme stress. What the pathologist cannot do is say whether the person was under stress because of an emotional crisis at home, because the victim was exercising to try and get into shape, or because the victim was under duress by being held at gunpoint. The mental state of the victim is out of reach to science. Even if it is shown that the death was caused by another party, motive for the crime cannot be shown scientifically. The detectives must employ methods other than naturalism to uncover those.

This is where most atheists who make the claim that science and faith are at odds go wrong.  They jump from science assuming a methodology of naturalism to the existence of God Himself. That's an unwarranted leap. Existence is a question of ontology, not methodology. That is it is a question of existence.  As McGrath stated, "By definition, a research method can uncover some things and not others, and this is the method that science uses. But we have to be very careful we don't conflate that into a view of reality." That would be like a shopkeeper believing that since his inventory shows negative two widgets, he is in possession of widgets made out of anti-matter! The method of inventory is not the same as the reality.

Weighing Science Along With Other Forms of Knowledge

To claim that science is atheistic is to confuse methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism, a mistake thinking people should never make. A more thoughtful approach to questions of truth and reality is to take those findings we understand through scientific discovery and see how they fit with all the other ways we can know things. Like the detective, we must gather our facts about the world from more than just the science. We must weigh all the evidence we have and see if we can draw an inference to the best explanation from them. Shutting out other forms of knowledge doesn't make one more intelligent; it makes them less so.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Is God an Egomaniac for Desiring Worship?

There's a famous episode of I Love Lucy where the always star-struck Lucy Ricardo visits Hollywood and wants to see some real movie stars. She decides to dine at the Brown Derby, a Hollywood restaurant famous in the 1950's for its movie studio clientele. She didn't wait long; soon, the maître d' seats 50's icon William Holden in the booth behind her.

Of course, Lucy must turn around and stare at Holden, which understandably annoys the star who simply wants to eat his lunch in peace. After a few uncomfortable moments, Holden decides to flip the tables on Lucy. He begins to stare and sigh at her! This completely unnerves her, who ultimately can't take it. She rushes out of the restaurant, accidentally dumping a plate of spaghetti on the star in her hurry to get away.

I bring up the episode because it plays into a common objection I hear from atheists: "Imagine what an egomaniac God must be if He commanded everyone to worship him!" In fact, a friend wrote me last week and said he was in a conversation where someone asked "Why does God demand to be worshipped?" Is the worship of God similar to Lucy's fawning over Holden? Do only egomaniacs seek out such devotion while well-adjusted individuals would be bothered as Lucy was?

Ignoring Who God Is

In looking at the claim that any god who seeks out worship is egotistical, one should immediately notice that it errs in making a specific assumption. It assumes that God is something on par with you and me. When humans accept worship from other humans, I can see how that is ugly and uncomfortable. That's because all men are equally subject to both the forces of nature as well as their own fallibilities. While the ancient Romans declared Caesar to be divine, he could neither stop Vesuvius from erupting nor stem his own death. It makes no sense to worship a man who has no power that any other man could not also assume in the right circumstances.

God, however, doesn't fit into this category. In fact, it is a function of worship to draw attention to the differences between God and us. Through worship we recognize that God created the universe and its rules are subject to Him. It is through worship that we acknowledge God as the author of life, we are his creation and as such we are subject to him. We also recognize God's goodness and holiness. Worship helps us to remember that we are not God. That's something Caesar forgot.

Showing Proper Deference

A general and a private are both human beings. We would expect any doctor in the emergency room to try and save both lives with equal effort. Yet a general would demand a salute from a private. Is this arrogance? A father would demand obedience and respect from his son. Would that be considered arrogant on the part of the father?

In both cases, the show of deference and respect by the younger person is considered right and appropriate. Worship shows the proper deference to God. The Father is He who gives us every good and perfect gift and in him we exist moment by moment. Thus it is good and right to show deference to God for his provision and sustenance. How other than worship could such deference be recognized?

The Objection Points to the Necessity of Worship

Lastly, worship is necessary for humanity. In raising the charge of egotism, the atheist is actually demonstrating why proper worship is necessary for human beings. Worship is necessary to humble ourselves. By objecting to even the concept of worship, atheists demonstrate subjecting oneself to another is not a task to take lightly. It raises all the flags to uncover our desire to be subjected to no one and nothing. But certainly the atheist, like Caesar, has no control over either his own mortality or the forces of nature. Sure, scientific advancements allow us to cool our homes but they can't stop a volcano. They may prolong life a couple of years, but they cannot grant immortality. Worship humbles us and reminds us to not become egotists ourselves.

Worship shows proper respect to God, it differentiates God from us, and it humbles us by reminding us just how limited we are. It isn't God who is egotistical because he commands us to worship; it is our egotism that worship of God guards against.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Replying to Science-of-the-Gaps Arguments

I had a commenter named Barry respond to my blog post "Why the Darwinist Version of Life's Origin is Anti-Science". First, he asked whether it is appropriate to couple the origin of life with neo-Darwinian evolution (it is), he then made the following statements:
You can't say "Well, we don't know how life emerged so God musta done it" simply because scientists don't know (yet). … That we don't know NOW how life began doesn't give anyone intellectual license to say that life has a supernatural cause due to a creative moment by a whimsical Omniscient Being. Relax. So we don't know right now what caused life to emerge. That's just the way it is. We'll understand some day. Maybe not in our lifetimes but it's likely to happen in the next fifty years or so.

In the meantime, God-of-the-gaps arguments aren't arguments from the point of evidence. They're arguments from the point of faith and belief. That's not a persuasive rhetorical tactic for the plain reason that reality is preferable to believing in things simply because you want these things to be true."
You will notice that Barry admits a couple of things. First, he holds that arguments that are not from the point of evidence are not strong. He refers to these as "intellectually feeble." He also admits that scientists don’t know how life began. In fact, they have absolutely no idea, no working models, nor even any controlled lab experiments that shows how one can get even a self-replicating RNA molecule from ribozyme components. I also brought this up in my response, pointing him to the enormous odds Dr. David Berlinski offered.

Barry’s response was telling. He replied:
Odds, shmods. It happened. Life DID emerge when it did and that's that. The only thing we don't understand is HOW life emerged—and there is zip evidence that it was due to some supernatural intervention. Evidence is tying a palm print on the rifle to Oswald. Evidence is collecting DNA from a crime scene and connecting it to a suspect. You? You got nuthin' to link to.
Can you see how this paragraph directly contradicts his previously stated view that arguments without evidence are intellectually feeble? Odds schmods?? It’s clear that Barry doesn’t care what the evidence (e.g. the mathematics) shows on the possibility of life emerging by chance. He simply wants it to be true. But that’s what the decried in the previous exchange! He’s not relying on a God-of-the-gaps argument, but a science-of-the-gaps one. He rejects the actual scientific data that that natural laws and chemistry alone could never assemble the first living organism simply because he doesn’t want to believe it to be true!

You’ll also notice that Barry claimed I had "nuthin' to link to." I did link to a couple of articles in fact, one being the Berlinski quote above. One of the main tasks of the scientific method is to either validate or falsify a hypothesis. You see, scientists understand that a negative result is still a result. We have data on what is required for life to exist, and it is showing more and more that spontaneous self-assembly is not a logical option. Asserting "we'll understand some day" is a statement of faith that directly contradicts the increasingly mounting evidence against the hypothesis.

To trust in science alone is not following the evidence wherever it leads. It is seeking to validate a preconception at any cost, something rational individuals should shun.
Original image courtesy Dale Schoonover, Kim Schoonover [CC BY 3.0]

Monday, May 04, 2015

Atheists and Unreasonable Objections

Most apologists are well aware of the command in 1 Peter 3:15 to "always be prepared to give a defense to those who ask for the hope that is within you." In fact, they will point to it as an example of God commanding Christians to engage with an unbelieving world. Yet, I've seen Christians think that in order to be faithful to 1 Peter 3:15, we must field every objections thrown at us, regardless of what it is. But there are some objections that are themselves unreasonable, and part of offering a defense is calling out the objector who offers frivolous complaints.

As an example of what I mean, let's look at an article I published last week entitled "Why Would a Loving God Allow the Earthquake in Nepal?" The article explained why plate tectonics, the movements which cause earthquakes, are crucial to support life on earth. One commenter on the post offered the following objection:
What a pile of drivel. So this god isnt to blame for all the deaths from quakes because they are necessary to stop the earth becoming desolate lol.

So this omnipotent god couldnt make a planet without plate tectonics?

The only reason we need a magnetic fields protection is because this god is slinging cosmic rays everywhere.

This god cant control biodiversity, chemical balance ,raise mountains from the sea(bible claims he can) without the use of earthquakes ? lol

If this omnipotent god cant create a world that works well without the need to kill thousands of people every year then its a very poor god indeed.
One will quickly notice that the objector doesn't doubt that plate tectonics do all the necessary things I said they did. His objection boils down to simply, "Surely, God cold have done it some other way!" Really? Exactly what way would this person suggest? Does he have another model that he would like to offer?

Perhaps he is arguing that if God exists, then no one should ever die from any natural accident. Natural laws should never endanger human lives. But, the implications of that are staggering. If no one should be harmed because of natural processes, then what do we do about the law of gravity? No one should fall off a cliff and nothing should ever fall on anyone. Is that a reasonable model? What "other way" is there for these kinds of calamities? His objection boils down to either repealing the law of gravity (which means that life on earth is again impossible) or human beings themselves become indestructible. That second choice was exactly what God did not want to happen, because people were in a state of sin. He never wanted a sinful human being to live in his sinful condition for all of eternity (see Genesis 3:22-24.)

Gainsaying Is Never a Path to the Truth

The primary issue I have with objections like this, and I see such objections all the time, both online and in personal conversations, is they aren't honest. The person asking isn't really looking for an answer; he is simply taking a contrary opinion to the evidence offered already. He was simply doing what is known as gainsaying, taking up a contrary position to discount my evidence instead of interacting with it. It means he ignored the evidence presented and complained that he didn't like the conclusions that followed.

Gainsaying is not thinking. It's simply negating whatever you don't like. I find it interesting that certain atheists will fall into what I call the outrageous objection such as the one above ("if God can do anything, then I want the world to look like this…"). But if one upholds reason as a central virtue, then such tactics should strike him or her as repugnant.  It proves that one isn't open to following the evidence wherever it leads. In fact, offering unreasonable objections isn't a sign of free-thinking, but of closed-mindedness. 1 Peter 3:15 doesn't say that the Christian has to answer every objection, no matter if it's a good or bad. We are commanded to defend the reality of the resurrected Jesus and the reasonableness of the Christian worldview. Because Christianity places a very high value on reason, it is appropriate to identify an unreasonable objection and demand that the objector offer something more concrete. By so doing, you demonstrate how much you value reason yourself.

Monday, February 09, 2015

How to Quickly Debunk the Horus-Jesus Myth

I remember the first time I heard the story of the Las Vegas vacationer who took a girl back to his hotel room but passed out, only to awake the next morning in a bathtub filled with ice and a kidney missing—the victim of organ harvesters. I had heard it from a co-worker who said it happened to the friend of a shared friend. Since this was before the age of the Internet, there was no Snopes–type web sites to check out such tales. In fact, I hadn't been acquainted with many urban legends up to that point, so in my youth they were more believable.

I should have known better. While the name of our shared friend lent some credence to the tale, it's obvious that the whole this is too sensationalistic and improbable to be true. It's what used to be called a tall tale, a yarn, a cock-and-bull story. Yet, even though I found it fascinating, the legend didn't spread much beyond our conversation. However, now that social media has been implanted into our circulatory systems, we're much more apt to spread such fertilizer in our interactions with others.

The Horus-Jesus Myth: What's the Connection?

Such is the case with the "Jesus is a copy of pagan myths" trope that seems to be gathering steam in many atheist circles. Some of this has to do with the popularity of the YouTube video Zeitgeist, where the first third of the video tries to compare Jesus and several demi-gods worshipped prior to Jesus's birth. Near the beginning, the narrator makes this claim:
Broadly speaking, the story of Horus is as follows: Horus was born on December 25th of the virgin Isis-Meri. His birth was accompanied by a star in the east, which in turn, three kings followed to locate and adorn the new-born savior. At the age of 12, he was a prodigal child teacher, and at the age of 30 he was baptized by a figure known as Anup and thus began his ministry. Horus had 12 disciples he traveled about with, performing miracles such as healing the sick and walking on water. Horus was known by many gestural names such as The Truth, The Light, God's Annointed Son, The Good Shepherd, The Lamb of God, and many others. After being betrayed by Typhon, Horus was crucified, buried for 3 days, and thus, resurrected.

These attributes of Horus, whether original or not, seem to permeate in many cultures of the world, for many other gods are found to have the same general mythological structure.1
Richard Carrier also believes that resurrection stories were "wildly popular among the pagans" and begat a something akin to the standard trope, with the Gospels simply following in this tradition:
Among pagans, genuine sons of god who had to be murdered, buried, and then miraculously resurrected from the dead in order to judge and rule from heaven on high as our divine saviors were actually a common fad of the time, not a shocking novelty at all. Osirus and Romulus were widely worshipped to the tune of such sacred stories demonstrably before the rise of Christianity, and similar stories surrounded other dying-and-rising gods long before such as Zalmoxis, Adonis, and Inanna.2

The Horus-Jesus Myth: Be Critical

Just like the stolen kidney story, the Horus-Jesus connection myth has much of what makes an urban legend appealing: a moral tale that shows how one's gullibility can result in one being taken in with serious consequences, the authoritative yet undefined source, a set of facts that on the surface are seemingly plausible, and the ability to shock others with a sensational revelation. Yet, just like the stolen kidney story, all you need to do is to think a bit and the paper-thin claims of Jesus's stolen resurrection will quickly melt away. Here are five points to consider:

1) Look for Loaded Language

Notice in the Zeitgeist story, all the terms used are ones taken from Christianity. Horus is called a "messiah" and was "baptized." He had "disciples" and a "ministry." All of these terms bias the listener because they are Jewish or Christian concepts. The Egyptians would never use these words to refer to their religious rites. The word messiah had a very specific meaning to the Jews, including being a descendant of David. It wasn't any political figure. Christianity teaches that believers are baptized only once, not simply a pre-religious washing ceremony. By mislabeling other deities with Christian terms, the listener is deluded into believing the similarities are closer than they really are.

2) Ask "Can I read the source of these myths?"

The single easiest way to debunk these supposed parallel accounts of Jesus and Horus are to simply ask for the source text of the myths themselves. Just as the stolen kidney tale can't be verified since it comes from "a friend of a friend," so you'll find that the ancient tales that supposedly parallels the life of Jesus are an extended form of hearsay. In fact, all these claims are usually committing the same sin many atheists claim the Gospels commit: they are more like a game of telephone than real texts.

Interestingly, if anyone actually bothers to look up the source texts, a very different picture arises. For Horus, there's no mention at all of twelve disciples, three king visitations, and death by crucifixion and the three day entombment. In fact, Horus was stung by a scorpion and a magic incantation by the god of wisdom, Thoth, purges the venom from his body. This all happens while Horus was a young child, well before his adulthood and battle for the throne. It's nothing like Jesus's resurrection at all.3

3) Ask "What do you mean by "resurrection?"

There's a significant difference between Jesus's resurrection and what you read in the ancient myths. Osirus, according to a late tradition recorded in the first century AD by the Roman Plutarch, was cut into fourteen pieces by his nemesis Typhon and they were scattered all along the Nile. Osirus's wife Isis was able to gather thirteen of those to reassemble her husband. The tale tells us that unfortunately Osirus's sexual organ was eaten by fish and so Isis assembled another out of gold in order for Osirus to impregnate her with Horus. Osirus, since he will never be a complete being again, now resides as the god of the underworld.4

4) Ask "What do you mean by virgin birth?"

Certainly, given the events above, calling Horus's conception a virgin birth strains the idea to its breaking point. Other fables, such as Zeus impregnating Semele with Dionysus. He had physical relations with her even though she couldn't see him. Zeus took Dionysus ads a fetus and sewed him into his thigh and from there Dionysus was born. To say the virgin birth stories should be considered comparable is itself laughable.

5) Ask "Just which calendar were they using in ancient Egypt?"

Lastly, the claims of December 25th are completely erroneous. Many myths don't specify any date at all for the birth of the deities (again, read the originals!) For Horus, Plutarch tells us he was born "about the time of the winter solstice… imperfect and premature."5 Beside the fact that Plutarch mixed many Greek ideas with the Egyptian myths, it is a huge stretch to assume an exact date for Horus's birth. Taking Plutarch's account, the term "about the time of the winter solstice" can be a swing of weeks in either direction. But if the Egyptians wanted to be more precise and attach Horus with the solstice, then his birthday would be the 21/22 of December in the modern calendar, not the 25th. As I've explained before, Jesus's actual birth is not known, and celebrating Christmas on December 25 has nothing to do with the winter solstice whatsoever.

There are other ideas you should have at the ready as well. For more suggestions, see here and here. But it should be evident by now that the supposed evidence of Christianity's plagiarism of earlier myths is itself based on myths and contrivances. Those that offer such views attempt to paint a picture that doesn't exist. Don't let these organ thieves steal your brain. Challenge them to think.


1. Zeitgeist: The Movie. Dir. Peter Joseph. YouTube. YouTube, 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.
2. Carrier, Richard. "Christianity's Success Was Not Incredible". The End of Christianity, John Loftus, Ed. (New York: Prometheus Books, 2011). 59.
3. Budge, E. A Wallis. " The Legend of the Death of Horus - II.--The Narrative of Isis " Legends of the Gods: The Egyptian Texts, Edited with Translations. London: Kegan Paul, Trench and Trübner, 1912. 170-196. Print. Online text available at
4. Budge "The History of Isis and Osiris -Section XVIII." 224-226. Web.
5. Plutarch. Isis and Osiris. Loeb Classical Library ed. Vol. V. N.p.: Loeb, 1936. Bill Thayer's Web Site. University of Chicago, 9 Oct. 2012. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.*/D.html.

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Absurdity of Describing Oneself as an Agnostic Atheist

Imagine meeting a man who traveled to your town from a far country after his nation was destroyed by a war. All the records of civil ceremonies had been wiped out. In talking with this gentleman, you ask if he has a wife. He answers, "I don't know if I am currently married, but I know that I'm a bachelor!"

You'd probably look at them with more than a bit of confusion. "How can that be?" you ask.

He replies, "Well, I may or may not have gone through a marriage ceremony in my home country. However, there's no way to tell, since all the records are destroyed. However, you don't see me with a wife now, I like to date a lot, and I don't want to answer to a wife or have to check in every night. Therefore, I've chosen to be a bachelor, but I may be married, too."

"But you don't understand," you reply. "The very concept of being a bachelor precludes you from being married. You are either married or you aren't, regardless of what records exist. Therefore, if you don't know whether you're married, then you don't know whether you're a bachelor. Conversely, if you know that you're a bachelor, you then know that you aren't married. "

He replies, "No, I am a bachelor who is open to the fact that I may also be married."

 You try to persist. "The word 'bachelor' refers to whether or not you have committed to another person in marriage. That either happened or it didn't. Claiming that you may be a married bachelor is just as absurd as saying you may have found a triangle with only two sides! I can tell you right now that such a triangle doesn't exist and neither does a married bachelor. Your standing regarding marriage defines whether or not you're a bachelor."

Defining Theism, Atheism, Agnosticism

While the above conversation seems farcical, I have been running into a similar issue recently with people who describe themselves as "agnostic atheists." As a Christian, I describe myself as a theist. A theist is someone who believes in God. There are many types of theists (Jews, Muslims, Deists, etc.) They all fall within the category of someone who holds that God exists. Being a theist doesn't mean the person can argue for or even prove that God exists; it simply defines the fact that they believe God exists.

On the other end of the spectrum are atheists. The word means "One who denies or disbelieves the existence of a God" and, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, came from combining the word theist (belief in God) with the negative prefix "a-" meaning without1. So, "without " + "belief in God" = atheist. Simple, right?

But there is a third term that can be used to describe ones relation to a belief in God, and that's the word "agnostic." That word derives from the same "a-" (without) but the second word is gnosis, which is a Greek word for knowledge. So an agnostic means someone who is without knowledge on a topic or issue. If you don't know whether there's a God (or perhaps you don't care), you would be considered an agnostic.

Because the word agnostic simply means one who doesn't know, it is used in contexts other than God's existence. For example, as a hockey fan, I am agnostic towards which teams will play in the Super Bowl this year. I am not rooting for one over another, and I don't have any knowledge as to which ones stand the better chance. If my wife asks whether she should buy chicken sausage or turkey sausage at the store, I would tell her "it doesn't matter at all; I'm agnostic on that issue." However, if I have even a slight leaning towards one choice over the other, then I am no longer agnostic. My indifference is gone and I do have a belief, albeit a small one.

Thus the Oxford English Dictionary's primary definition of agnosticism reads, "A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of immaterial things, especially of the existence or nature of God. Distinguished from atheist."2

Notice that even the OED states that the term agnostic is to distinguish lack of knowledge as to whether God exist as opposed to atheist which says one disbelieves in God's existence.  While I don't believe the OED is the end authority on this matter, philosophers have been using these terms in a similar way for many years as well. (The irony here is that Huxley coined the term agnostic by borrowing from Paul's speech about God in Acts 17:23)3.

So as more and more atheists describe themselves as "agnostic atheists," they are simply trying to claim too much.  Each of these terms describes a single state of belief: whether one believes in God, one doesn't believe in God, or one simply doesn't know whether God exists. It doesn't matter whether you can prove His existence or if you even care to. To be agnostic is to make a claim that distinguishes one from an atheist. It is just as incoherent to claim to be an agnostic atheist as it is to be a married bachelor or finding a two-sided triangle. Such contradictions don't demonstrate a value for rationalism but quite the reverse.


1. "Atheist." Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.
2. "Agnostic." Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.
3. Smart, J. J. C. "Atheism and Agnosticism." Stanford University. Stanford University, 09 Mar. 2004. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Christianity is a Thinking-Man's Faith

There are many ways that Christianity distinguishes itself from all other religious systems. Chief among these is the central doctrine that God became man to pay the penalty we could never pay and thus reconcile sinful man back to God. But there are many other points where Christian teachings are unique. One of these is just how much Christianity centers on thoughtful examination of belief.

When we look through the teachings of scripture, it turns out that Christianity is very much a thinking-man's faith. In fact, in order to be a mature Christian, you are commanded to not just seek God emotionally, but intellectually as well. When asked by an expert in the Jewish law as to what commandment ranks above all others, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6, which is the passage that Jews use to distinguish themselves from their pagan neighbors. Yet, Jesus added something to it. While verse five in the original reads "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might," Jesus added the phrase "and with all your mind" in Matthew 22:37. Jesus cared about the life of the mind.

1. Christianity is Discriminating

From His model, Christians took the life of the mind seriously. They weren't simply believe simply any tale told as part of their faith, but they were to test the claims coming to them. Paul challenges the Thessalonians to "test everything; hold fast what is good" (1 Thess. 5:21). In Revelation 2:2, Jesus commended the church at Ephesus because they "have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false."

2. Christianity is Literate

Christianity became a very literate faith, relying on the teachings of the Apostles passed on through scripture. Paul exhorted Timothy to "do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15-16). It's interesting that Paul tells Timothy he is going to have to work at discerning the meaning of the texts. In fact, Paul goes further in the next verse, warning against speculations when he cautions, "But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness."

Because the written word played such a key part in the development of the Christian life, it truly became the basis for the modern university. Alvin J. Schmidt writes:
Formally educating both sexes was also largely a Christian innovation. W.M. Ramsay states that Christianity's aim was "universal education, not education confined to the rich, as among the Greeks and Romans…and it [made no distinction of sex." This matter produced results, for by the fifth century, St. Augustine said that Christian women were often better informed on divine matters than the pagan male philosophers.1

3. Christianity is Fact-based

Beyond just seeking to be true to its own teachings, Christianity is a faith rooted in the facts of history. he concept of eyewitnesses plays a huge part in the Christian message. Like tells us that when he began to compile his account of Jesus' life he sought out "those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses" and that he himself "investigated everything carefully from the beginning" to provide "the exact truth." Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, offers the testimony of not only himself, but over five hundred witnesses and says that if any of the people doubt his account, they could ask some of them, since most were still alive at that time. Peter tells the church "we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty."

Peter was even bolder than this when he preached before the Jews in Acts chapter 2. Here he stood in front of a hostile audience and he appealed to their own knowledge of the facts in order to convert them! He declares Jesus' story of ministry, death and resurrection and offers the phrase "as you yourselves know" as proof that he wasn't making up myths. Surely a hostile audience would not have stood for mistakes in his presentation of the facts.

Christianity values intellectual excellence. Christians are command to study, to examine the claims brought before them, to not accept just any attempt by a person to pass along what they say is Christian doctrine, but to rightly divide the word of truth. As Alastair Begg recently said "We need to do what the Bible has always instructed us to do: to think." It's time to reclaim the life of the mind for Christ.


1. Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World: Formerly Titled Under the Influence. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. Print. 172.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Three Ways Our Universe is Designed for Life

Just the fact the universe exists at all is pretty good evidence for God. It's an amazing thing that our universe exists and that we exist! But to stop there would be to do a disservice to what science continues to uncover about how our universe works. You see, it's not simply that the universe exists and we happen to live within it. Modern scientists have found that the universe could have existed just fine in many different configurations, but the laws that govern this universe are tuned very precisely. The way our planet is positioned within the universe is also very unique. What scientists continue to find is the universe is meticulously designed just so that it is capable of supporting life like our own. It's been rigged for life, if you will. The universe is finely-tuned for human existence.

Finding the perfect cabin in a dangerous wood

In order to understand how this works, I would like to offer an analogy. Imagine that you're lost in a dark, dangerous wood. The temperature fluctuates from extreme heat in the day to frigid cold at night. You have no food and no water. Aside from the other life-threatening conditions, there are dangerous animals that may attack you if you stay out in the open. You need to find shelter if you are ever going to survive. By chance, you stumble upon a cabin in a clearing of the forest. Crawling through an open window, you quickly hurry inside, thankful for your good luck. Luck is all you currently perceive finding the cabin to be. I mean it's quite possible that you could have taken any number of routes through the wood and ended up someplace else, but you just happened to end up here. However, as you start to explore the cabin, you attitude begins to change.

First, you notice that there's fresh food in the kitchen, and that the food just happens to be all your favorite kinds. Then, you see that there are some medical supplies in the bathroom that are exactly what you need: bandages for your cuts and scrapes, but also insulin for treating your diabetes. In the bedroom, there's a collection of CDs from all your favorite bands, three books are on the table that are your favorite books, and the reading glasses are your exact prescription! The mattress is the exact firmness you like and all the clothes in the closet fit you perfectly. Finally, you go to the front door, but it is locked. On a hunch, you pull out your house key from your pocket and try it in the door. The key unlocks the front door and you are able to enter and exit effortlessly. After these and many, many more discoveries, you finally come to the conclusion that this is not a random cabin at all, but one designed especially for you to help you survive within this dangerous forest.

Before you can create tuna, you must first tune the universe!

Now, you may be thinking that I'm stretching the facts a bit when I give the examples in my cabin analogy above. In fact, I'm actually downplaying the amazing precision of what science is finding out about the very delicate balance of features the universe must have in order to allow life to exist as it does on this planet. As we continue to learn more about how our universe works, we are finding two very interesting things:
  • It is not necessary that those laws should come together in the way they do now. There are many combinations of laws that still would allow the universe to exist but not support life, and
  • There are so incredibly many different types of laws that must be present all at the same time for life to exist, each so delicately balanced and perfectly set, that it seems hardly a coincidence. The universe is fine-tuned for life on earth.
Sometimes because of our familiarity with a situation, we neglect to think about how many elements must be just right for the desired goal to happen. Returning to our cabin illustration, we see a cabin in a clearing and run to it, perhaps wondering why it's there, but not really thinking about all the conditions it would take to make the cabin.

Really, for a shelter to be of any use in saving someone from dying in the woods, it is important that the area where that shelter sits be just right for the type of shelter it is and the materials used to construct the shelter be made out of the right stuff. The shelter also needs to have life-supporting elements inside. Otherwise you will simply be forced to abandon it or die. Let's take these one at a time and look at them more closely. We will examine the first one today and look at the other two in tomorrow's post.

1.  Laws of the universe make life possible (the area is right)

In order for a cabin to be built and help a desperate soul lost in the woods, it must be built in a location that has specific properties. For example, no one would want to climb into a cabin and find out it was built on quicksand. The ground must be firm and able to hold a strong foundation. The trees must be cleared away so that there is adequate room for the structure. A cabin built on a severe slope or on the other side of an impassible ravine would make it impossible to get to. Swampy areas would cause the wood that the cabin is built out of to rot.

Our universe has laws that govern how its build materials fit together and react to one another. Things like the strength of gravity or the force that allows protons and neutrons within an atom to stick together are delicately balanced. For example, gravity make a huge difference in whether we would have any stars that could support life like our sun does. According to scientists John Barrow and Frank Tipler, if the force of gravity had been slightly weaker, all stars would have formed into red dwarfs, not producing enough heat to sustain life on any planet. But if it had been slightly stronger, stars would all form to be blue giants, which burn too briefly for life to develop.The fine-tuning of this force must be set to a value so fine that a change of less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth would be catastrophic for stars like our sun. 2

There are many other laws that have a similar crucial impact on whether our universe is just right to even allow life to exist, such as the size of an electron relative to a proton, how fast the universe expands, the age of the universe, the speed of light, the amount and uniform level of radiation in the universe, and many, many more. See table 1 for just some of these balances.

Paul Davies, a widely respected physicist and cosmologist, noted that many of the laws of the universe we take for granted are not necessary at all, but function just like that clear, level area that allows us to construct the cabin. In fact, that the universe could have turned out much differently than it did. Davies said "You might be tempted to suppose that any old rag-bag of laws would produce a complex universe of some sort, with attendant inhabitants convinced of their own specialness. Not so. It turns out that randomly-selected laws lead almost inevitably either to unrelieved chaos or boring and uneventful simplicity. Our own universe is poised exquisitely between these unpalatable alternatives."3

Continue to Part Two here »


1. Barrow, John D. and Frank J. Tipler. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).336
2. Davies, Paul. The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life? (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006) 147
3.Davies, Paul M. "Templeton Prize Address." Arizona State University. 23 January 2010

Monday, September 15, 2014

Four Ways Learning to Defend Your Faith Benefits You!

Last week, I wrote a blog post saying that if you want to love God in the way Jesus commanded, you need to get serious about loving Him with your mind as well as your heart, soul, and strength. Part of that means we as Christians need to better understand what it is we believe and we need to be able to defend our beliefs. But many people think that studying apologetics is akin to being on the school debate team; it just prepares you for face-off against opponents and helps you win debates. That's really a shallow way of understanding why learning to defend your faith is important. I can see at least four different ways learning apologetics can benefit you personally in your walk with God. I will tackle the first two today, and address the second two tomorrow.

Engaging God Intellectually Transforms Us into Better Christians

I want to draw a big line under one item here. Loving God intellectually doesn't mean you're simply equipping yourself to win an argument — it means you've studied His word carefully and thoughtfully. God isn't holding us accountable as to whether we convince others of our point, but if they are "ready on our lips" and if we can "accurately handle the word of truth" (1 Pet.3:15, II Tim 2:15). Studying God's word changes us! Paul furthers this point in Romans 12:2 when he writes, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed… by the renewing of your mind." We are transformed when we begin to understand and believe correct things about God. But just as we said to the critic, we can only be sure ourselves if we're holding right beliefs if we study them and make sure they are true to His word and His creation.

Engaging God Intellectually Guards Against Falling into Errors

Another important function of using our minds to love God is it protects us from falling into heresies or theological error. In fact, many of the cults that we face today actually have their origin in the early 19th century in Western New York in what was then the rugged frontier of America. There were many revival movements that would come and go and the itinerant preachers would really get people worked up; they would call the masses to repentance and many would respond to be "saved." But the movement was rooted only in an emotional appeal, and not intellectual rigor.1 Emotional response without understanding doesn't lead to true salvation, but a façade of true belief. It's no wonder, then, that the cults sprang up in the same area. The roots of Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Spiritism, Utopianisim, and other cultic beliefs can all be traced to this drive to find religion divorced from careful study.

We are not immune to such corruption of Christian beliefs even today. One extreme example is the word-faith movement. These teachers are spreading all sorts of heresies, from teaching that God has a material body to the supposed existence of a "force of faith" that even God must obey. Duped followers take it in willingly, without understanding how much they have corrupted even the most basic Christian doctrines. But, what other false ideas may have begun to thrive as a result of our unwillingness to engage our minds? In Acts 17, the Bereans were commended for not merely believing Paul and Silas' message, but they were "examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so." This is why Paul warns us to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good." (1 Thess. 5:21) This is the way we begin to protect ourselves against heresies.


1.In her article "A Crusade Among Equals" Janette Bohi notes the approach to the Revivalism spreading across the frontier was a mixture of emotionalism and patriotism in the early nineteenth-century. She writes "These early nineteenth-century revivals put the principle of churches being supported freely by their members (volunteerism) before liturgy, democracy before orthodoxy, and emotion before intellect. By crossing denominational barriers, they enabled the church to reach the masses. They made camp meetings a social institution which supported manifest destiny." Missionaries were trying to bridge denominational boundaries and spread the movement across the frontier, but the result was it stunted the importance of being critical and holding to orthodox beliefs and substituted compromise for truth. For more see Bohi, Janette, "A Crusade Among Equals", Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity, Tim Dowley, Ed. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman Pub 1977, p.534.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Reason and Faith Are Not Opposites

I don't know how many times I've heard the claim that "religion is just a crutch for the weak-minded". Many of the popular atheists in print today like to try and say that belief in God is the opposite of being rational.1 Others I've had conversations with dismiss faith as being the opposite of knowledge. I remember having lunch one day with some mutual friends. The discussion turned to matters of belief and one girl immediately said that we couldn't really know truth at all, to which I objected, saying that there are a lot of things we can know. We know 2 + 2 = 4, the earth circles around the sun, and Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. She immediately objected and said "that's not truth, those are facts!" I answered, "Well, are those facts true or not? What makes the statement 2 + 2 = 4 a fact and 2 + 2 = 5 not a fact? Isn't it an idea known as truth?"

As you can see, this girl was trying desperately to draw a line between matters of faith and things that fall in the category of math and science. She was trying to say that faith is merely a personal choice, like which ice cream flavor is best. But God either exists or He doesn't. Jesus of Nazareth either really lived, really was crucified, and really rose from the dead or He didn't. These statements aren't nearly the same as liking a particular ice cream. They are questions of history and of existence. That means they can be investigated and facts can be discovered. Reasons for their truth or falsehood can be offered. And if it's found that there are good reasons for believing in these claims, then we are only unreasonable if we refuse to believe them.

So reason and faith are not opposites. The Christian faith rests upon the reasons we have for believing in things like the resurrection. In our Proverbs passage, God says that we are to cling to "the words of the wise"; we are to cling to "excellent things of counsels and knowledge." Wise words, counsels, and knowledge are all objective terms; words are only wise or knowledgeable if they are true. And if something is true, then it must be rational to hold to such as belief. That's why God says we can know the certainty of the word of truth. To do anything else would be irrational!


1. The most prolific of those that would contrast faith to reason are the so-called "New Atheists" such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins writes that belief in God is "a persistently false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence"(p.28) which is tantamount to shutting your eyes and denying what's in front of you.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Were Early Christians Encouraged to Become Martyrs?

A few weeks ago, I had responded to a meme (here and here) posted by atheist Michael Sherlock that claimed, "Christianity did not become a major religion by the quality of its truth, but by the quantity of its violence." Sherlock has attempted to reply to one of my arguments, but I think he falls short in numerous ways. Two primary areas where he gets both history and the argument wrong are 1) the concept that Christians somehow solicited people for martyrdom in order to attract followers and 2) the argument that since Christians were the recipients of violent acts, it somehow justifies his meme. I will deal with the first today and tackle the second tomorrow.

Sherlock makes the claim,  "We have records that testify to early Christian Church officials and fathers, encouraging many of their followers to provoke the Roman authorities and submit themselves to the violence of voluntary martyrdom, in the oft times realized hope that they might be martyred in public spectacles and thereby increase the popularity of the early Church."1That's a huge claim. Sherlock ascribes very specific and sinister motivations to the early church fathers; however he fails to produce a single document from antiquity that spells out such a plan or goal. His first stab at evidence is to quote Chapter II from The Martyrdom of Polycarp where the church fathers of Smyrna (Sherlock incorrectly attributes the passage to Polycarp himself) recount the pattern of prior martyrs for the faith and concludes:
And so like lambs, a number of the more gullible Christians of the ante-Nicene period, were sent out amongst the wolves to be slaughtered for their leader's ambitions, with the hope that the fires would be cool to them and that they, as willing martyrs for their unfounded and credulous faith, acting 'imitatio Christi,' would be afforded an opportunity to commune with Christ himself and attain a free-ticket into a non-existent heaven.2

Christians Did Not Solicit Martyrs

Sherlock's dogged misunderstanding of the text shows in many ways (you may read the passage here in context). First, this wasn't written as an appeal to action. The letter is entitled "The Martyrdom of Polycarp" and was written to explain just that. It seeks to place martyrdom in its proper Christian context and labels martyrs of that past as heroes of the faith. This is as natural as any nation reporting stories of those who laid down their lives for an ideal. But if Sherlock would have read just a bit further, he would have seen that the letter explicitly argues against promoting martyrdom for the sake of martyrdom. Just 115 words later in chapter four it recounts that a Phrygian man named Quintus who sought voluntarily martyrdom, but when he saw the fate awaiting him he apostatized instead. The letter then admonishes the Christians, "Wherefore, brethren, we do not commend those who give themselves up [to suffering], seeing the Gospel does not teach so to do."3 This statement is of course in direct contradiction to Sherlock's thesis.

Secondly, it wasn't "more gullible Christians of the ante-Nicene period, were sent out amongst the wolves to be slaughtered for their leader's ambitions." Polycarp was the one martyred! He was the leader of the church of Smyrna and therefore it would be hard pressed for his martyrdom tom result in his own ambitions somehow being met. The charge is wholly without merit and Sherlock offers not a scrap of evidence to corroborate his conjecture. It is fabricated out of whole cloth, and I do think using the epithets "gullible," "leader's ambitions," and "credulous" is simply Sherlock exercising the fallacy of poisoning the well.

Lastly, Sherlock seems to conflate his religions. Christianity in no way teaches that martyrdom provides any such favored status as a "free-ticket to a non-existent heaven." In fact, by Polycarp's own writings we see that he endorsed Paul's view of salvation as having already been received by the believer when he endorses Paul's epistle to the Philippians. In Chapter three, Paul spells out how no work of the flesh can gain one access to heaven, but only "that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith." Sherlock seems to think that Christian theology teaches something akin to Muslim beliefs, a position that is demonstrably false.

Sherlock's Own Sources Prove Christians Eschewed Voluntary Martyrdom

In hoping to justify his broader claim that Christians were trying to coax people to become martyrs in order to attract new followers, Sherlock quotes a few other sources, including the following passage from Henry Chadwick:
Voluntary provocative martyrs were easily engendered by promises of celestial joy. In the 190s Clement of Alexandria deeply disapproved of aggressive voluntary martyrs. Their attitude seemed to the emperor Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic defender of suicide, 'theatricality' in poor taste. Cyprian of Carthage under persecution in 250–8 also united idealized language about the martyr's crown with express disapproval of voluntary self-destruction.4
I believe that Sherlock is hoping one would read the first sentence and ignore the rest. Sherlock himself ignored the sentences just before his quote which places that paragraph in context:
Ignatius was writing in haste under difficult circumstances, and his language did not always convey precisely what he wanted to say. The language used would be surprising at any decade of the second century. The confrontation with imminent martyrdom profoundly affected him, and the impression can be given that a proper willingness to die in union with Christ has passed into a neurotic will to die.

Voluntary provocative martyrs were easily engendered by promises of celestial joy. In the 190s Clement of Alexandria deeply disapproved of aggressive voluntary martyrs. Their attitude seemed to the emperor Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic defender of suicide, 'theatricality' in poor taste. Cyprian of Carthage under persecution in 250–8 also united idealized language about the martyr's crown with express disapproval of voluntary self-destruction (emphasis added.)5
So here we have Chadwick explaining how Ignatius' letter may be misunderstood because of his duress and that he would disapprove of voluntary martyrs because other Christian leaders such as Clement of Alexandria and Cyprian of Carthage had also explicitly disapproved of such, too! Add that to the admonition in The Martyrdom of Polycarp cited above and we have a consensus in the sources that Christian teachers disdained unprovoked voluntary martyrdom. These are Sherlock's own sources, and they argue specifically against his point.

I'm certain that Christians being covered in pitch and lit on fire for to provide light to Nero's garden were not congratulating themselves. I'm certain that when Diocletian ordered the arrest and imprisonment of all bishops and priests, along with the confiscation or destruction of all church assets that these leaders did not benefit. Sherlock has taken small slivers of historical text and filled them with a 21st century new atheist viewpoint. There is real violence demonstrated in Sherlock's post; unfortunately, it is to history and to the texts themselves. Tomorrow, I will show how even if we grant Sherlock's first premise, it doesn't save his meme.


1. Sherlock, Michael. "Violent Christianity – Refuting the Christian Apologists at Come Reason Ministries." Web. 7-7-2014. Accessed 7-8-2014.
2.Sherlock, Ibid.
3."The Martyrdom of Polycarp."  Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Web. Accessed 7-8-2014.
4. Sherlock, Ibid.
5. Chadwick, Henry. The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).67.
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